I have since last October been involved with a weekly small group, who gather each Sunday evening to discuss Crazy Love, a book written by Francis Chan. The book was written in 2007, and published in 2008, and has become a Christian bestseller and has become available as an audio book as well as a DVD small group discussion curriculum. Pretty good if you are measuring success by sales and appeal to the N. American church community of the concepts and precepts being promoted by Francis Chan which calls Christians to a crazy love for God that results in doing crazy things for God.
In reading the book I wondered why was it so appealing to so many people. In November of 2010, I was in one of my favourite bookstores, Chapters in Waterloo, and I was perusing the books, and I normally go to different sections of the store, such as the history section, the computer technology and Christianity sections. There I was in the Christianity section and a woman is asking one of the store resource people about Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, and the clerk has found that there is one copy of it in the store, but they cannot find it. I am there overhearing the conversation, between this man and this woman who is really agitated that she cannot find this book and she just has to find the copy. The clerk sensing the agitation while they search turns to her and says, “Why are you so desperate for this book?” She replies in excitement and conviction, “It has changed the lives of so many people I know, and I just have to get my hands on it as soon as possible.”
This took me a tad off guard as I found no such thing to be excited about in the book. However this woman’s excitement caused me to hang in there and listen. In exasperation the clerk said, “Madam, I cannot find the book, but I can order one for you and it would be here in three to five business days.” There was a pregnant pause in the air. At this point I simply turned to the woman and said, “Please forgive me, but I could not help overhearing your conversation about Crazy Love. If you are hard pressed for a copy and you really need one as soon as you can get your hands on one, may I suggest you check out the Gospel Lighthouse in Waterloo. They currently have the book on sale and it is being promoted near the front desk in that store. You will find it there if you still want one right away.” The look on the woman was one of surprise and glee all in one. Excitedly she thanked the clerk, and turned to me, and thanked me, and said to both the clerk and I, “Thank you both. I am off to the Gospel Lighthouse. I just have to get my hands on that book.” And with that she was gone. Weird. Totally weird.
I checked the ECPA website for today’s date, 24 January 2011. Crazy Love has risen up to number 2 in the best seller list. It is rated with a gold rating meaning it has sold over a half million copies. This shocks me as I wonder why this is so.
Chan addresses the idea of how we become familiar with God and take Him for granted, just as we get used to our loved ones over time. Where is the sense of awe that we had when we first fell in love? He addresses how we understand God and if we have what he says is a high view of God, if not, then he is really not all that important. What I believe Chan is addressing is how the church culture is more concerned about results, in how many people become Christians, and all for the wrong reasons, such as sin management, or as a reason to escape hell. If the church really proclaimed God as who He truly is, I ask the question, would there be that many more conversions, or fewer still? I believe that a true proclamation of the Gospel entails a true description of who God is and who we are in our lost state before Him. We often preach a gospel of escapism rather than the gospel of the Kingdom and life in the service of the One who redeems us. Has our Christian sub culture reduced God to the lowest possible tolerable definition in order to make salvation palpable to people who otherwise would reject God? I tend to think so.
Chan moves on in chapter two talking about people who die and funerals of those whom he calls had their “lives cut short”. I found this chapter personally irritating for one simple reason. My theological orientation over time has become more Christocentric as well as focused on the sovereignty of God. The scripture reveals our days are numbered, and we should not be surprised when people die, at no matter what age. It affects us deeply only for the reason that our culture lives in denial of death, in denial of aging with grace, and in denial of that fact that people, young and old, die, and not necessarily in the best of circumstances. Asking the question “are you ready to die” is a good one to ask, but I think that question continues to be answered in a deeper way as we mature in life and in the faith.
To point blank ask people that question can be very intrusive and inappropriate, especially if you are not in a significant relationship with them. Often those in ministry take the opportunity to speak of God and our need of Him at funerals, when we are most vulnerable to ponder those questions. However I find that to be very manipulative of the part of those in the ministry conducting a funeral, where they ought to be bringing comfort to the family and friends, rather than worrying about pushing the envelope to see if they can get “some lost sinner to think about salvation and heaven.” It leaves me feeling a mixture of disgust and contempt, for those who think that some sermon meant to probe the inner depths during a time of great sadness, is somehow ethically and morally correct, because it may be the only time such a person will be offered salvation. That really undermines the sovereignty of God and the work of His Spirit in the lives of people and shows a great deal of presumption and a lack of faith on the part of those who practice such antics.
In Chapter 3 Chan talks about how we place upon God our own relationship with our earthly father. There no escaping the fact that our relationship with our dads impact us for good and bad, but in the long run, we need to see God as to who He is, no matter what kind of father figure we had growing up. In my own life my dad became distant from me in my teens. It seemed that I could do nothing right and I only got his attention if I acted out. It took me a long time to get over my dad and his far away behavious in relating to me. I viewed God as being far away and waiting for me to screw up, just like dad. It took two decades to discover the love of God as “abba father” and to realize my dad loved me to only the capacity he was able to. I began to see God as my true father and began to see that God blessed me with a natural father that gave me good things. He gave me a love for God, and a love for the Scriptures. For that I will always thank God for my dad. But that took a lot of working out in my head and heart to reach that point. Chan seems to deminish how difficult it is to process this journey through. He is too simplistic and not a realist when it comes to family relational issues, commonly known as dysfunctions and their causes.
Chan gets overtly dramatic when he speaks of lukewarmness. He really does project that a lukewarmness as being a contradiction of what a Christian is. He asserts that if you are lukewarm then you cannot be a Christian. I find this to be too much of an extreme, almost demanding a 24/7 “on fire” relationship with God that never wavers from “burning on for God” which is physically, emotionally, and spiritually impossible. We are complex people who have much affecting our lives, and we constantly face challenges, trials and adversity, battles with doubt and unbelief, and I venture to say that most of us readily identify with the man in the Gospel of Mark chapter 9, who stated:
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”’
We are going to keep trusting in God and battle through those mental and emotional states, but that does not mean we are lukewarm. I have often read of those who have gone before us, and I myself have experienced this, that I will do what I know pleases God, often almost going through the motions, doing it out of a desire to please God, and it is usually when I do not sense His nearness. I read and study the Scriptures and I do what I know to be true, and usually over time, my affections and my love for Him begin to burn again, as I continue to push myself to pursue and love Him and obey the clear teaching of Scripture. Some have dared call that dealing with backsliding and resorting to religious observance devoid of passion. I call it working out my salvation in fear and trembling. In those times I have not sensed God to be near, but I have lived by faith that He is near.
To my own understanding lukewarmness is that state of being distant from God and indifferent due to whatever situation we find ourselves in. The context in Revelation 3 is that of Laodicea, a city known for its hot water springs and cold water that came down from the mountains into the city. Christ is denouncing something I believe that more to the point states: “Be hot or be cold, but don’t dilute one or the other.” You see in Laodicea they needed both the hot and the cold. The mixture of the two ruined both. So should not the question rather be, be hot when you need to be hot, and be cold when you need to be cold. The hot waters were used for healing. The cold to nourish. So the question has more to do with not diluting either one through indifference. If Chan is addressing indifference he has a point to make. But his tone is that if you are lukewarm you cannot be a Christian, and I biblically disagree very strongly with him on that point. Indifference is very often the result of choices that are made in circumstances and how it affects our hearts and our affections. God’s grace is bigger than my circumstances. But it requires me to turn toward Him and receive His grace which is often difficult when we are deeply hurt and wounded. Chan is too harsh and judgmental when he says there is no such thing as a lukewarm Christian.
Chan moves from lukewarmness to how we serve leftovers to God, the implication that we are giving God our second best. This flows in line with his judgments of the N. American church, that we do not give God our best. Some would argue that these are a lot of critical judgments made in broad strokes decrying the state of our lack of affection toward God in how we continually seem to be giving only our second best to God. If you get irritated by Chan’s use of the term “lukewarmness” “leftovers for God” will really set you off.
Chan takes the discussion in the next chapter toward a discourse on Jesus and how in love we are with Him. Are we in love with Him for who He is or what He does for us. Years ago I was in a church gathering, during a conference, where I clearly heard the Lord speak to me (not in an audible voice) and in my spirit I heard Him say, “Sam, if you will seek My face, I will not withhold My hands from you.” I came to realize that as I sought Him for who He is, I did not have to worry about His provision. In many Charismatic circles Christians often speak of their destiny in God and their spiritual gifts and their calling and ministry. Mind you I have heard similar things spoken in different ways from non-Charismatics too. What this speaks of is a personal arrogance where God exists for my spiritual fulfillment. It is the reversal of what the Scriptures teach. I have rarely heard a sermon or teaching on discovering what God is doing and getting on board and finding a place in what He is currently doing and just serving. I have rarely heard expounded that the spiritual gifts that people have are for the benefit of the body, and not for personal ministry fulfillment. God is looking to build up the body of Christ and extend “His” Kingdom (not our glorious half acre in His Kingdom) in the earth. God is looking for those who will minister to Him and serve Him as He empowers and leads them. All this is about God, and not about us. So how much do we love Him? Chan makes His point as I hope I make mine.
Chan addresses living our lives that requires “faith”. The question he poses is “What are you doing right now that requires faith?” I found this question to be somewhat misleading. My day to day life, moment by moment requires faith. What Chan is implying is “ministry” rather than faith. He is implying what are you doing right now for God that requires you to put your faith in God. I find that to be a really odd question. Martin Luther started a Reformation on a text originally found in Habbakkuk 2 and restated by Paul in Romans 1:17
“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”’
Living by faith is an active choice of putting our trust in God. It is not about ministry or attempting a great enterprise for God. It is simply putting out trust in God. John Wimber defined and spelled out faith in this way: R I S K. Wimber implied that putting our trust in God required us to take risk. So it really is not about ministry so much as trusting and risking that God will come through for us in our day to day lives.
The real challenge comes when we develop a keen moment by moment relationship with God where He speaks to us, through the Scriptures, other people, circumstances, where our spirit knows that we know that we have heard God in that moment. Will we hear and obey God, and trust Him and risk for Him? That is radical biblical living. That is being led by the Spirit.
Chan addresses in chapter 7 and 8 the issue of living our best life ever. He addresses stewardship and investing in the things of the Kingdom. He deals about what it means to be obsessed with God and serving God. I believe that much of what Chan says is biblical, but again it is the motive behind it. God expects us to know Him and His word. To do that means cultivating a deep passionate relationship with Him, and discerning not only what He is saying in the Word of God, but also how to apply it in our lives. In chapter 8 he goes into greater depth trying to describe what the profile of an obsessed person is. I found this chapter to be somewhat tiresome and irritating. You see I am obsessed with God. He is constantly on my mind, in my thoughts, and I sing about Him and praise Him and not a moment goes by where I do not think about Him or speak about Him when I am around people. But here I find Chan really is over the line. He begins to define what he believes an obsessed person will do:
- “People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly, without censure. Obsessed people love those who hate them and who can never love them back” (p. 132).
- “People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else. Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress” (p. 133).
- “People who are obsessed with Jesus live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another. Obsessed people believe that Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to Him” (p. 135).
- “Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don’t always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth” (p. 136-137).
- “A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the sin of pride is always a battle. Obsessed people know that you can never be ‘humble enough,’ and so they seek to make themselves less known and Christ more known” (p. 138).
- “People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden. Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving His people” (p. 139).
- “People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers. Obsessed people genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world” (p. 140-141).
- “A person who is obsessed thinks about heaven frequently. Obsessed people orient their lives around eternity; they are not fixed only on what is here in front of them” (p. 142).
- “A person who is obsessed is characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being” (p. 143).
- “People who are obsessed are raw with God; they do not attempt to mask the ugliness of their sins or their failures. Obsessed people don’t put it on for God; He is their safe place, where they can be at peace” (p. 144).
- “People who are obsessed with God have an intimate relationship with Him. They are nourished by God’s Word throughout the day because they know that forty minutes on Sunday is not enough to sustain them for a whole week, especially when they will encounter so many distractions and alternative missions” (p. 145).
- “A person who is obsessed with Jesus is more concerned with his or her character than comfort. Obsessed people know that true joy doesn’t depend on circumstances of environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God” (p. 146).
- “A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the best thing he can do is be faithful to his Savior in every aspect of his life, continually saying, ‘Thank You!’ to God. An obsessed person knows there can never be intimacy if he is always tyring to pay God back or work hard enough to be worthy. He revels in his role as child and friend of God” (p. 147-148).
As you can see there is quite some stretch here as to what according to Chan qualifies as a person being obsessed with Christ.
Let me say it plainly. If a person is obsessed with Christ, they will cultivate a deep devotional life and communal life with Him and spend time with Him and the Scriptures, and journal and meditate and hear and obey what he hears the Lord saying to Him. He will walk by faith and by the Spirit and he will do what he is asked to do. Plain and simple. No need for the dramatics that Chan has listed above. God calls me to live a live where I discern and do what He directs, which includes caring about safety by the way, not wanton disregard for it!
One of my favourite worship songs is one by Delirious the British worship band. Yes, it is called Obsession. Listen to the lyrics.
What can I do with my obsession?
With the things I cannot see
Is there madness in my being?
Is it wind that blows the trees?
Sometimes you’re further than the moon
Sometimes you’re closer than my skin
And you surround me like a winter fog
You’ve come and burned me with a kiss
And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns
And I’m so filthy with my sin
I carry pride like a disease
You know I’m stubborn God and I’m longing
to be close
You burn me deeper than I know
I feel lonely without hope
I feel desperate without vision
You wrap around me like a winter coat
You come and free me like a bird
And my heart burns for you
And my heart burns for you
Now in chapter nine I really got upset with this chapter, and in fact I have to say just how much I hated this chapter. Chan goes through a list of people of the faith, some alive and some dead. Some well know and others lesser known. They include:
- Nathan Barlow
- Simpson Rebbavarapu
- Jamie Lang
- Marva J. Dawn
- Rich Mullins
- Rachel Saint
- George Mueller
- Brother Yun
- Shane Claiborne
- The Robynson Family
- Susan Diego
- Cornerstone Community Church
It is one thing to offer examples of people who devoted themselves to following God as they understood Him and what He was calling them to be about. It is quite another to presume that all Christians should emulate what Chan calls “crazy” and “insane” things for God. There is a huge presumption on his part when after boasting about Cornerstone Community Church and how much of its budget is given to the poor, and then Chan concludes this chapter with:
“I hope these life stories have done more than encourage you; I hope they have eliminated every excuse for not living a radical, love-motivated life. I hope they have challenged the multitudes who “feel called to the rich” and ignore the poor. If biblical examples seem unattainable, hopefully these average, everyday people give you hope that you too, can live a life worth writing about” (page 164).
It is rather presumptive that ordinary Christian who are not doing “wild” things for God, or forsaking all to go and work on the mission field, or who don’t do something extreme, are not serving God as He intended them to. There are many biblically radical believers who live a very unselfish life, giving and serving others, who will never be noticed, but God notices them and will reward them. I took offense to the statement “…everyday people give you hope that you too, can live a life worth writing about.” Oh, really? Are we serving God because we will get mentioned in some book? Or that we will become famous? The only “book” I am concerned about, is about having my name written in the Book of Life and to hear my Lord say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
In chapter ten, after manipulating us with a list of personalities who have given all for God and the Kingdom, just to supposedly inspire us (it is manipulation plain and simple), Chan goes for the jugular.
He tries to convince us that we should obey the Scriptures and set a model for others for serving God and others. He lays the ultimate guilt trip on the Evangelical believer. He poses the question “Is this what I want to be doing when Christ comes back?” What a heavy to put on people. Do you think that Jesus really cares if you are out with others having a good time when He comes back? Do you think being in a movie theatre with your wife watching a movie at that moment will really matter to Him? Do you think being at the beach with your kids and grankids enjoying being family together is really going to matter? No, none of it will matter.
For if you belong to Christ and your are a good steward of your time, your resources, your life, and what you occupy your life with, it will not matter. What matters to God is that you are faithful with the little you have, and if you are He will give you more for you will have proven to be faithful.
19“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 “The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ 21“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Just why have so many people bought into this book? Why indeed have they bought into the message of a very successful mega church planter? This is Chan’s first book. He cut his teeth on this one.
I believe the reasona it has and continues to be very successful are these:
- People, and especially Christians, want to have books that lay out “how to” do things for God and for their loved ones and family and friends.
- They want to know how to love God and serve Him.
- They want to be told what to do.
- They don’t want to wrestle God on their own. They don’t want to be like Jacob, and wrestle God and come out with a limp afterward.
- They don’t want to take the risk of getting to really know God and what He would require of them.
- They are like the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses offered them the opportunity to meet God as he did. They were filled with fear from the thunder and smoke. They told Moses to go back up the mountain and to find out what God wants and to come back down and tell them and they would do it. They were offered relationship with God at a deeper level in Exodus 19. The very next chapter, Exodus 20, Moses comes down the mountain with the ten commandments. They were offered relationship and they settled for religious rules. Christians in N. America are little different from the Israelites. They want to be told what to do and how to do it.
- They don’t want to work out their salvation in fear and trembling on their own. That is why there is such blind loyalty to super charismatic preachers. It baffles me how loyal and how dedicated some N. American Christians are in following the teaching and traditions of men rather than God.
So has Chan succeeded? This book was far from radical for me. It provoked and angered me, and I think with good reason. Would I recommend the book to another person. No I would not. There are too many subtleties about grace and law and works righteousness and too many manipulating statements for me to endorse such a book.
I personally believe that Chan is a theoritician who has not practiced enough in working out the kinks and the wrinkles of what it means to live by faith and to walk in the Spirit. He has come up with some precepts and theories mixed in with observations and opinions, but they have not yet gone through the crucible of fire of personal experience. Give him ten more years of working it out in his own life and I venture you would get a very different kind of book, both in tone, and content. I would contend it would be filled with more of the majesty and grace of God and far less of the works oriented gospel he promotes in this book.
Chan is works obsessed rather than just plain obsessed with Jesus and the works that He promises to do through all believers who put their trust in Him. Christians in love with Jesus do as He asks in response to the love and grace He pours into their life. They do not do it under compulsion but out of joy and a desire to please Him. And that my friends is how all believers should respond in biblical radical love.